Finally embracing the transfer portal, Penn State opens itself to a new world of possibilities
Penn State finally has gotten with the times, figuring out that the NCAA transfer portal works both ways.
This is Year 3 of the portal, and already in the 2021 transfer season James Franklin and staff have quadrupled their haul from the first 2 go-rounds.
Well, keep at it gentlemen, because this is how the game will be played going forward. I don’t envy Franklin the task, trying to balance his program ideals of family atmosphere and unconditional love with the harsh reality that the talent pool is burgeoning with mercenaries.
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The right balance, perhaps, is to have reciprocal love and support that exists everywhere and at all times except on the field when the game clock is ticking. This is a business, after all, and the CEO’s job is to acquire the best talent available and maximize its use.
The customers, the fans, expect nothing less.
With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of what has happened so far and what Penn State should yet do in regards to the transfer portal.
Get the biggest DT who will fit through the portal
Penn State recently lost two defensive tackles — Antonio Shelton (6-2, 327) and Judge Culpepper (6-4, 291) — to the portal, but already has brought one back — Derrick Tangelo (6-2, 310) from Duke.
Considering that defensive ends Shaka Toney and Jason Oweh have headed off to chase their NFL dreams, Penn State has a lot of re-stocking to do on its defensive line. I’m all for finding some DEs in the portal, as the Lions did in Arnold Ebiketie from Temple, but the priority should be another tackle. Penn State hasn’t had great push up the middle for a number of years.
Netori Johnson might be an answer. A 4-star offensive lineman coming out of high school, he spurned Alabama in favor of Georgia after stringing them both along for a while. Switched to defense, Johnson (6-4, 320) hasn’t really panned out for his home-state Bulldogs, playing sparingly. But if you watched Georgia beat Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, you saw why Johnson hasn’t seen the field often. The Bulldogs are loaded with interior linemen, with 6-6, 320-pound nose man Jordan Davis leading the way. There were a lot of really big guys celebrating with Davis after his 1 sack against the Bearcats.
Meanwhile, Johnson was spending the first days of the new year in the transfer portal.
Penn State needs to do its due diligence, but it’s hard to believe a big man once coveted by Alabama and Georgia is beyond reclamation. He has 2 years of eligibility remaining. According the 247Sports, he’s the best available DL in the portal. He’s worth a look.
And if not Johnson, then someone else from the list. Penn State needs to get bigger and stronger up the middle, so the speed guys on the edges and at LB can run downhill rather than recovering and chasing so much.
Tangelo, a multi-year contributor (45 games, 27 starts) at Duke, should slot right into Shelton’s spot and provide the team a senior stopgap while the younger Lions’ DLs develop. If Johnson or someone like him were to join Tangelo in the middle of the defensive line, the Lions would be more stout up front than they’ve been in several years.
It’s about time!
Franklin’s program is embracing a targeted approach with transfers, as director of player personnel Andy Frank acknowledged in a recent media session.
“I think we all kind of realized that, in the past for us at Penn State, transfers were not a big part of our overall recruiting process,” Frank said. “That will change. … We’re gonna be looking for guys that can help us fill gaps.”
They need to do so, because over the past 2 years, the Lions have lost 30-some players to the portal and brought back only one who played a significant role — punter/kickoff man Jordan Stout.
During those same 2 years, Ohio State brought in Justin Fields (from Georgia in 2019) and Trey Sermon (from Oklahoma in 2020). Talk about a highly effective, targeted approach!
The portal will be more important than ever if the NCAA, as expected, makes all transfers immediately eligible. So it’s good that Penn State is finally on board. Consider it second-chance recruiting, only with experienced players available, sometimes highly experienced players.
Almost no programs can afford to opt out of this new game. It is a reality that apparently is here to stay, and it would be coaching malpractice not to scour the list.
Last year, more than 120 quarterbacks entered the portal, and all but a few of them did in fact change schools. The running back count topped 100 as well, and the lists were long at seemingly every position. Already for 2021, there are 86 QBs in the portal as of Jan. 2.
Where PSU stands
The program has 4 incoming transfers, and 5 players planning to leave.
Arriving in 2021: RB John Lovett from Baylor, DT Derrick Tangelo from Duke, DE Arnold Ebiketie from Temple, CB John Dixon from South Carolina. Lovett and Ebiketie are already cleared for immediate eligibility as grad transfers; most likely, Tangelo and Dixon will also be eligible right away.
Leaving: WR John Dunmore, DT Antonio Shelton, DT Judge Culpepper, DE Brandon Taylor, CB Trent Gordon (to Arkansas).
More, more, more?
If Jahan Dotson decides to pursue NFL dreams, Penn State should probably go searching for a reliable receiver or two to complement breakout freshman Parker Washington. Dunmore, a 4-star recruit from Florida in the 2019 class, follows Justin Shorter and Juwan Johnson — among other receivers — heading out of State College in recent years.
Two receivers in the portal rate higher than Dunmore, per 247Sports. Tyrell Shavers (6-6, 216) is leaving Mississippi State after transferring there this season from Alabama. He was a 4-star, top-100 recruit in 2017 for the Tide. On the other end of the height spectrum, Penn State could go after 5-8 ½ Mookie Cooper, a 4-star 2020 recruit who apparently doesn’t like the looks of the depth chart at Ohio State.
Beyond that and what it has already done, Penn State should of course constantly monitor the portal for players too good to ignore.
They don’t need to chase project quarterbacks, though. Sean Clifford and Will Levis have settled into roles that work well enough for this squad, and Ta’Quan Roberson, still with freshman eligibility entering his third season in the program, waits in the wings. And Beau Pribula (6-2, 200), named Pennsylvania’s 6A high school Player of the Year after a monster junior season at Central York High, is already committed to the Lions’ 2022 class.
Get used to it
The transfer portal is another aspect of the game within the game, another dimension in which to compete. Good programs will figure out how to do it right.
Every team will lose players, every year. The great programs will bring back even better players. A lot of transfers probably are executed for the mutual benefit of player and program. There is no need for hard feelings. Wish those moving on good luck, and welcome those arriving with open arms.
Now that Franklin and staff have accepted the new reality, I imagine most fans of the Blue and White will too. There really isn’t another option, unless one decides to transfer one’s attention to some other entertainment source.